Last Thursday, Jane and I went to one of our favorite restaurants in the Stadium Village neighborhood of Minneapolis near the U of M — Bona. Bona is a Vietnamese restaurant that serves phở (pronounced similar to “fun” without the ‘n’) and other delicious Vietnamese dishes as well as several Chinese-inspired dishes that you’d typically find at a Chinese restaurant in the United States or Canada. Pho is a hot soup consisting of rice noodles, green onion, and meat in a savory beef broth, and makes for an excellent meal on a cold Minnesota winter day (i.e. anytime between November and April), which is one reason we love Bona so much.
I was first introduced to pho by my friend and former colleague, Johnny Hu, at a restaurant called “Pho 99” while I was a graduate student in math at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. I had tasted dishes similar to pho in the past while living in Japan which I had liked, and so it wasn’t long before pho made it to my list of favorite things to eat.
Bona has excellent pho, and is very close to the U, located at 815 Washington Ave. SE — right across the street from Punch Pizza! The first time I went to Bona was about a year ago on a group-lunch outing with my research group, and I’ve been hooked on Bona ever since. Jane was also introduced to Bona by her research group, and she’s been hooked ever since as well. Additionally, one of our first few dates was at Bona, and we still enjoy going back for more delicious pho when we’re in the area and not at Punch Pizza.
Bona has various pho dishes with different types and cuts of meat, including beef tripe and tendon. If that’s not your thing, then there is a normal beef pho called “phở tái”. Many pho restaurants, including Bona, also offer extras for pho, such as extra rice noodles, cooked vegetables, and “meatballs”. As is typical with pho, a plate of bean sprouts, Thai basil, jalapeños, and lime is provided for garnishing — although, in this particular instance they provided lemon for some reason. Below is a picture of the pho tai with meatballs that we ordered.
I think the meatballs from Bona might be an acquired taste for the likes of me, as they seem to be made of beef tendon, tripe, etc. and have a somewhat strong flavor. Jane liked the meatballs much more than I did, so it’s obviously a matter of personal preference. At any rate, I’ll be happy without them next time, or with the cooked vegetables instead. However, the pho tai still gets four thumbs up from us — both of us loved it.
Besides pho, Bona has other Vietnamese soup dishes. Jane and I are always eager to try new foods, so we scoured the menu for something delicious sounding that we had not tried yet. We decided on a dish called “gỏi già” (sometimes called “spring noodles” in English), which billed itself as a spicy, sour, and savory tamarind-based soup with pork, shrimp, green onions, and Vietnamese wheat noodles. The dish arrived, true to its description, and with a plate of bean sprouts, chopped lettuce and mint, jalapeños, and lemon for garnishing.
The goi gia also gets four thumbs up — it was amazing and delicious. The shrimp tasted very fresh and the pork was tender. Although the menu claimed the dish was spicy, it was a mild sort of spice. The tamarind provided a great undertone to the dish, giving it an overall and penetrating sweetness in each delicious sip.
The food at Bona is great, but great food alone doesn’t guarantee a great time out. Below are some notes on other details of Bona, such as price and service.
Price: The prices at Bona are very reasonable. At the time of this article, a “small” bowl of pho (pictured) costs $6.50, while a large bowl costs $7.50. Toppings are $1.50 each. Lunch items (discussed further below) are typically around $6.
Specials: Bona has an additional lunch menu from 11am to 5pm consisting mainly of Chinese-style dishes, which are very good. The portion size for the lunch menu items is quite small, however. There is also a daily special for each day of the week called the “tip of the day” which varies between Vietnamese and Chinese dishes.
Service: Lunch time can be quite busy due to the proximity of the U, but during dinner the atmosphere is very relaxed. Jane and I have been to Bona twice now for dinner (arriving between 5pm and 6pm) and have not had to deal with waiting for a table or slow service, which can be the case when they are quite busy. In fact, this last time we went, our service was excellent. The waiter even offered to bring us extra bowls to divide up the soups so that we could share easier, which made us happy.
Parking and Transportation: A limited amount of parking is available in their parking lot, but be careful not to abuse it, because they’ll tow you if you’re not in the restaurant. If you’re not planning on driving, Metrotransit buses 16 and 50 stop nearby, as well as the U of M campus connector (McNamera stop).
Verdict on Bona: So what’s the verdict on Bona? It’s pho-nomenal, and highly recommended for both lunch and dinner. The food is excellent, the service is good, and the prices are very reasonable. Try the pho, it’s amazing! You’ll be hooked on Bona too!